Marcus padded off to a corner and nosed at a rather large cardboard box. I walked over to see what was in it. Once I had opened the flaps, I could see that it was a mixed box of clothing. Nothing pink in that box, was my first wayward thought, then it dawned on me that Marcus wanted me to pick out some clothes for him and allow him a minute to change. I pulled out a dark t-shirt, off-gray sweats and a pair of flip-flops. I smiled at the surfer logo on the footwear and placed them off to the side a bit. I went back to Renee and Harry. They were both studying the slab of white marble. Dark gray veins laced the top, along with a faint patina of dried blood. It wouldn't be obvious to anyone but vampires and werewolves without a forensic test. I inhaled the thick rich scents from the pain and suffering that had been sacrificed.
"Hell, Natasha, no wonder Archer is trying to kill us. That's old magic." Harry pointed out to us the runes and patterns inlaid on the edges. I felt the radiating rush of the supernatural power flow over my skin. That altar was throbbing with magic.
Marcus had finished his transformation and the sucking wet sounds were still clawing at me. I didn't think I'd ever get used to the sounds of werewolves flipping back and forth between their natural states. Having seen a few transformations in the past few days, I knew how much energy it cost them. As a vampire, I'd have been downing a pint or two of type A at least before I would be reasonable, much less approachable. I heard an odd crinkling and turned to see Marcus had just put on the sweat bottoms and was chewing on an energy bar. He walked behind the marble altar and breathed in deeply. His skin had an unhealthy sheen and he reached over and splashed himself off a bit in the waterfall. The muck from his change was sloshed off quickly easily mixing in with the water at the bottom. I'd already figured out that it wasn't a normal water feature -- the unnatural cave had a manufactured waterfall -- big shock. It was beautifully crafted and would fit nicely into any upscale landscape, but I saw it as tainted because it was part of whatever odd ceremonies they held down underneath Archer's territory.
Still chewing Marcus sighed, "Okay, so I know how screwed up this is." Marcus was good with understatements.
He pulled another protein bar open and bit off nearly half the bar as he inhaled the questionable food. From the grimace on his face, it wasn't his ideal choice for a meal, but he needed the fuel. He started looking a bit less strained as he ate a third bar. The trash was tossed towards the cardboard box where I'd found the clothing. I hadn't noticed the bars when I'd grabbed him the clothes, but they barely registered as food to humans, so my vampiric nature didn't even consider them. Marcus obviously recognized how strained his body was and that we weren't on the menu. With all the bones in the cavern and along the gate I knew all of his kind weren't as selective. Not that he could have taken one of us much less all three of us together, but I saw his eyes flicker hungrily towards Renee when he didn't know I was watching. My fangs dropped and I hissed, "Screw YOU. We aren't part of tonight's menu."
Renee snapped up straight and spun with her fangs out and said, "Marcus, focus. Carlos wouldn't appreciate you snacking on his intended."
That cracked me up for some reason, I thought, What exactly did Carlos 'intend' to do with a vampire? As that notion flew through my brain I found myself giggling. Harry sighed and said, "Okay, children, we done playing?"
"Sure, Harry." I pulled in my fangs and showed Marcus my back.
Besides I'd figured if I kept eye contact with him one of us would snap and I doubted I'd earn any brownie points by killing Carlos' lieutenant. Simon, my Master, already was angry with me for Damson's indiscretions. My psychopath fledgling had crossed more than a few lines. He wanted me true dead so he could become his own territorial Master. And I knew Kenyon was the one putting those ideas in his brain. Self-preservation was a trait Damson possessed, but he wasn't that smart. I knew how quick he could figure the best way to land on his feet, but this reeked of Kenyon and his plots. Marcus wasn't enamored of Damson anymore than I was. Damson had just tried to kill me at Dark Whispers while we fought our way out of the hellhole Kenyon called his home. Marcus was a warrior in many ways. That alone was worth keeping Marcus on my team -- besides he wanted Kenyon in pieces nearly as much as I did.
Marcus sighed, "Sorry, I am exhausted. I meant no disrespect, Renee."
Renee said, "Okay, but Marcus, you have to knock that shit off. We have some real problems. This altar isn't good. I don't think we were supposed to find it."
Harry had continued walking around the room studying various inscriptions and touching some things lightly. His back was stiff and he wasn't pleased. I felt the anger rippling below the surface. He was going to blow at this rate. With my current blood tie to him that would suck me right into the mix.
"I gather from your reactions, Marcus, that Carlos and you didn't have a clue what Archer has been doing down here?" His voice was very soft and dangerous.
I felt a tingle run down my spine. Harry had gone beyond angry and was coasting well into the red zone. In vampires that was not a good thing. I flushed and paced over to look at the waterfall. In the bottom there were rocks, and from a glance at the design underneath the black and brown stones, probably a drain. The water didn't fully erase the dried specks of gore spattered in unrecognizable patterns over various dry rocks. To me it spelled death and gore but to the werewolves I figured it was more along the lines of a tangle of magic and promise. For all the pain and suffering that lined the walls of the chambers I could also sense the lush awe of mystery and worship. Marcus pulled on the t-shirt and growled.
"We knew Archer had been hiding behind his compound walls but there weren't any signs or even whispers of this." His hand swept roughly at the altar and surrounding room; the numerous piles of bones spoke on their own, no comments needed. The werewolves had been killing humans down underneath their land and homes for a long time. Given the brittleness of a few of them I'd crunched underneath my boots I'd put it back a good century at least -- maybe longer.
He continued, "Archer's child has been protected by werewolves and our pack laws. He was allowed freedoms most pack members never thought of or even dreamed existed. He was nearly untouchable. Archer wasn't entitled to lead a pack or have his own territory but it hadn't seemed to stop him from giving the impression of having his own army." That concerned me more than Marcus' glaring and posturing. "Archer is something different. None of Carlos' pack had figured this was going on underground and in silence. I never heard a single hint of all of this." His gesture at the grotto was choppy and angry. As Carlos' lieutenant it would have fallen to him to tell Carlos about any such deviations or plans. He was angry with himself nearly as much as he was Archer. Marcus wouldn't just let Archer go back to business as usual after seeing the display of magic from Archer and finding the ceremonial chamber.
Renee cleared her throat, "Excuse me, Marcus?"
"Yes?" His lustful hunger-tinged glance was gone. In its place was the customary arrogance and pride I associated with Marcus. He was vicious and in control of himself again. His eyes were flat and he was busy plotting and planning some mayhem I could tell. Thankfully the power bars curbed his immediate need of meat, but he wouldn't last long. We needed to get out of the cavern and back up top. The madcap scheme to play with the werewolves in the waning moon seemed ridiculous when faced with such horrors. The magic was still crackling around the room, as if our very presence was feeding something dark.
"What exactly does Archer do here besides kill humans?"
"He is giving offerings to an ancient goddess," Harry answered for Marcus.
Harry had found a niche and pulled out a small marble figuring. Her obvious dimensions and rounded lines were recognizable as fertility goddess design but in her fists were small bones and wolf fangs. She wasn't a god that I knew but Marcus shuddered and took a half step towards Harry.
Marcus added, "I think Archer has been giving offerings for his child's welfare."
Lovely. I didn't see what I could add. Vampires weren't into worshipping any god or goddess. We pretty much considered ourselves top of the evolutionary chain and the only being that could command our attention was our immediate Master or another Master of good standing in our family. This was beyond my scope and having skipped my reading on werewolves it wasn't something I even knew they did.
Renee gasped, "But this is wrong." She'd done her reading obviously.
"This is a perversion of nature." She was disgusted.
Okay, it was a bit rich coming from a vampire but I knew what she meant.
"I agree," Marcus sighed.
He shoved his hand over his hair and pulled on his face with a large open fist before yawning with a jaw popping sound. He rubbed his palm down his neck and crackled his spine. Exhaustion lined his cheeks. Without a word he paced over to the marble and he pushed at the entire altar. It moved slowly. I was somehow expecting a hidden compartment but instead it was just noisy. His anger gave him nearly vampiric strength and soon he'd toppled the huge table. It fell with a loud thud and decisive crack. The thickness of the marble and however it had been constructed resisted shattering but not cracking. The splintered altar flashed latent power but the energy flooded into the ground. I expected a rumble and crack followed by the earth opening up and gobbling the marble altar back into the soil. I was somewhat disappointed when it didn't happen.
"Do you feel better now?" I asked. It had to be satisfying to shove a slice of horror over like that. Harry was shaking his head, "So I gather we aren't going to just let this stay our little secret?"
"After the competition for Solomon's Fang is over I'm bringing Archer down." Marcus was dead serious. I liked that he hadn't lost sight of the fact we still wanted the Fang. The vampire artifact never should have been out of the safe at the council's nest and certainly not inside a middle level werewolf's den.
"How many of the elements can we gather here?" Renee looked around the eerie werewolf slaughterhouse with a grin. She pulled out the four Ziploc Baggies Costa had distributed to each team for the contest. I'd expected some exotic container with etchings on the side. Vampires did things with more flair.
I recalled the rules Archer had given. We were allowed to choose a form and bring back the basic four elements. Earth, Wind, Fire and Water. I felt like I'd been stuck underground for hours but it had been less than an hour. The time limit given for the quest was four hours. If we collected all four and headed back to Costa we'd win. Or be in another fight. By this point I'd figured we'd be fighting Archer and his little band of misfits since we'd seen they didn't follow Carlos' rule or the basic werewolf laws.
Nothing like the idea of no-holds-fighting-other-supernaturals to make me happy. A grin on my face I began looking for the quest items.
To be continued...